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Careers for the History Major: Public Historian

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By Richard Hines, Ph.D.
Director, Graduate and Undergraduate Programs in History and Military History at American Public University

Public History has been around for a long time, and can loosely be described as any history that works outside of the academic setting. The term “Public History” did not really come into existence until sometime in the 1970s, and since that time has become increasingly professionalized. That professionalization has resulted from the widespread growth of Public History Programs around the country. Like traditional academic historians, those who work in this field utilize the same methodologies and intellectual approach. According to the National Council on Public History (NCPH), “public history describes the many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world. In this sense, it is history that is applied to real-world issues.” Although the inherent diversity of the field makes it almost impossible to adequately define this is essentially “applied history.”

In the last couple of years, the American Public University System instituted a Public history field. Currently, APUS is one of only two Public History online programs in the nation. Students in this program, among other things, take courses in Archives and Manuscript Management, History and Digital Preservation, Museum and Exhibition Culture, Issues in Historic Preservation, and the Theory and Practice of Oral History.

[related: Do History Programs Lose Their Identity by Broadening the Focus?]

Probably the fastest growing field in the discipline, public historians work in a wide variety of jobs. Including:

  • Historic Preservationists
  • Archivists
  • Curators
  • Park Rangers
  • Historical Interpreters
  • Private Researchers
  • Cultural Resource Managers
  • Oral Historians
  • Policy Advisors
  • Expert Witnesses
  • Corporate Historians

Historians who work in the corporate world participate in a number of functions from preserving the history of the corporation, to doing research, or preparing exhibitions.

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